How do you address a stranger in a public space, in case you ever need to? How are you addressed? Have you noticed changes in such modes of address, over the years?
When I was young, everyone in Delhi was related to everyone else- you were, to the public at large, depending on your age and sex, either "beta" (son), "Bhaisahib" (older brother), "Bhaiya" (brother), "Chachaji" or Uncle, usually pronounced 'Unkil', or, if really venerably old, "Baba" or Dadaji (Grandfather) if male, and "bitiya" or "baby" ( not like 'babe', though)"Behenji" or "Didi" (elder sister), "Maasiji" or the ubiquitous Auntie, and "Mataji" (mother) if you looked old enough to be the person's mother.
(Or, as in Lucknow, if you had children and were, therefore, a mother. My grey-haired dhobi-in-residence insisted on addressing me as Mataji when my kids were really young). Like it or not, every member of the public whom you interacted with you was your kith and kin.
Which is not to say that some of these relationships were not incestuous in intent- buses and streets had a huge share of creepy guys even then. Some things never change.
As a child I hated it. How could these random people presume kinship with me? I realise I was a terrible snob. All these relationships thrust upon me! Of course this was probably because I had spent my early childhood in England, and this was just one of the shocks that the mother country jolted me with.
Having grown up in this enormous joint family that was Delhi, then having left it for decades after getting married, I had a reverse culture shock when we moved to Noida a few years ago.
Noida is part of the National Capital Region and I was frequently in and out of Delhi.
The humungous Dilli joint family had got globalised, and I was no longer any random stranger's Behenji or Auntieji. I had morphed into an unrelated 'Madam', a word that denies any form of kinship beyond the business at hand! Men were still part of a universal brotherhood, though some have graduated from "Bhaisahib" to "Sir ji", but as more and more women stepped out of the familiar roles of teacher or nurse or 'lady doctor', and assumed a more corporate character, the man in the street no longer seemed to relate to you in familial terms. After years of being part of a huge joint family, you had been disowned.
Madam is not a term that incorporates any degree of familiarity or kinship. The phonetics of the word are sadly, rather damning. 'Madam', when uttered by the disgruntled, emphasises the second syllable. Emphasising the first makes it no better! It only sounds polite if your first name is put before it, which will of course, only occur in a familiar setting. I wonder, though, how much resentment is hidden by a now ubiquitous term. Women have emerged from their homes, from their known, familial roles, and have taken on all kinds of occupations, many of them have several men reporting to them. This is still a relatively new phenomenon in India, and will take some getting used to. Women who appear to belong to a social stratum with power and wealth are often treated with surface deference and underlying resentment, especially by men. Even women who drive their own vehicles are largely castigated by resentful males, who somewhere seem to question a woman's right to own/drive a car. So much of this is subconscious and subliminal, but centuries of patriarchal conditioning will not be erased in just a few generations.
Kolkata is still a more affectionate city, as this post by Lalita shows, though our opinions on this are very different!
'Madam' is now part of the global culture we all seem to aspire to or have thrust upon us, willy-nilly.
If only it was uttered with a little more respect.